Interview with Lisa from FI Venturers
Sabbaticals come in all shapes and sizes! This is why we love interviewing other professionals who have decided to take a career break to focus on what is most important to them. Today we’re diving into Lisa’s story who took a 60-day leave of absence and turned it into a new career path!
Our goal is to empower YOU to follow your own sabbatical dream!
Whether you decide to take a 2-month or 2-year sabbatical, go alone or with your kids, travel to the other side of the world or stay close to your community… Get ready to embark on your own unique journey!
Lisa Grout during her sabbatical in the Badlands
Lisa took a 60-day leave of absence from a successful HR career. After feeling burned out and feeling a growing lack of motivation, she decided to listen to her intuition and put her self-care first! Having worked on her financial independence goals before her sabbatical helped her to take the time needed without financial pressure!
One RV trip across South Dakota and Colorado later, she realized going back to her original career was not in the cards for her!
She started FI Venturers to empower others to live a life of adventure.
Let’s dive into Lisa’s story!
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How did a 60-day leave of absence turn into a new career path? Let’s find out!
Q: Describe your situation before taking your sabbatical
I had known I needed a break from my work in Human Resources for at least a year before I took a sabbatical. I was very burned out. My energy towards work was zapped, and I didn’t feel a connection to the work I was doing anymore. I had a lot of anxiety around work. As you can imagine, all of these things took a toll on my mental health.
Call it intuition or my gut, but my internal dialogue told me I needed a break.
➡️ Can a sabbatical prevent burnout? Let’s find out!
I had open conversations with my husband about my feelings towards work. Luckily, he was supportive no matter what I decided to do. As 2022 came, we knew I would make a change—we just didn’t know exactly what it would be.
Q: When and how did you first hear about sabbaticals? And what inspired you to actually take one?
It seems silly looking back on it, but I got the idea from my therapist! I was working through my feelings about work in therapy, and she asked me if I had considered a sabbatical/leave of absence. So simple, but it was a life-changing question.
A lightbulb went off for me; I had my answer. In my all-or-nothing thinking, I could only see extreme options (quitting or continuing doing what I didn’t enjoy anymore). A simple answer that felt right was under my nose the entire time.
After she asked the question, I reviewed my company’s policies and realized I was eligible to request extended, unpaid time off under our sabbatical/leave of absence policy. I talked it through with my husband and it was a no-brainer. Although I was nervous about how my company would view my request for a sabbatical, I knew I had to ask. I crafted a request to my manager for a 60-day sabbatical and held my breath as I hit “send.”
My manager responded the same day and approved my request. No questions asked, just essentially, “absolutely, we want to support you to take time off.”
We often look for life-changing, complicated answers to take big steps, but my situation demonstrated how simple answers are actually more realistic in providing the small steps to get to the place we want to be.
➡️ Anxious to talk to your manager about your sabbatical? Read more here!
Q: How did you decide on the date to actually start your sabbatical?
I coordinated the date to start my sabbatical with my employer. I was in an HR consulting role and actually had two projects wrapping up around the same time. I suggested my sabbatical start at the conclusion of those projects to ensure continuity for my clients. My sabbatical started a month and a half or so after I submitted the request, at the start of April 2022.
Q: What did you think your sabbatical was going to look like and what did it end up being like?
I had 60 days off for my sabbatical, essentially April and May 2022. When I requested the time off, I just knew I wanted a break from work. I didn’t have much more of a vision honestly.
I thought I’d be off work and rest for 60 days.
Once the sabbatical was approved though, my husband got the idea to travel out west in our RV. We ended up traveling for the entire month of May, exploring primarily South Dakota and Colorado.
We had dreamed of traveling longer in our RV, but we thought it was years down the road. My sabbatical made it possible!
We had an amazing time, and our adventure would not have happened if I hadn’t requested the sabbatical. It is amazing how opportunities arise once you make space for them!
I used the month of April leading up to our trip to focus on myself, including therapy, journaling, moving my body, spending time with our new puppy, and resting.
Looking back on it, my sabbatical was perfect parts resting and internal work, as well as a new adventure to take me outside of my comfort zone.
Q: What were your biggest fears regarding your sabbatical? And did they end up turning out to be true or not?
When I first requested the sabbatical my greatest fear was not making “good use” of the time off. Very Type A personality, right!? I knew I could easily fall into productivity mode for the entire 60 days and waste my time on a tactical “to-do” list.
To combat my productivity tendencies, I created a list of “must-dos” and “nice-to-dos” to help me keep my priorities straight for this time off. Needless to say the list didn’t include vacuuming and cleaning! So, when I was reading in the afternoon and felt guilty for not doing “more,” I reminded myself of my priorities. At times it was a challenge, but setting my priorities helped me during those times of anxiety.
The other big fear I had going into the sabbatical was the time off wouldn’t be enough to figure out what I wanted to do with my career. And, spoiler alert—it wasn’t! It wasn’t realistic to think I could figure out my life in 60 days, and luckily I came to terms with that early on in my time off.
What I did figure out though is that we loved traveling in our RV in May, and that enabled us to plan longer RV trips in the future (like for the month of February we’re in Florida to escape winter weather!).
Lisa Grout in Rocky Mountain National Park during her sabbatical
Q: Tell us about the biggest challenges you encountered during the planning phase of your sabbatical.
I really didn’t have many challenges around the planning phase of my sabbatical.
It sounds cliché to say, but once I submitted the request, things just fell into place as if it was meant to be. The approval was quick and affirming, the start date made sense to me and my employer, and once we realized we wanted to travel for a month in our RV, the trip plans came together easily.
Q: What kind of budgeting or overall financial planning did you do before, during, and after your sabbatical?
I was very fortunate and blessed to be in a strong financial situation to take the 60-day unpaid sabbatical.
My husband and I have been pursuing FI (Financial Independence) since 2019, and we have built a substantial emergency fund and savings. In addition, my husband’s income more than covers our monthly expenses. Once the sabbatical was approved, we (fortunately) didn’t have any concerns over the impact on us financially.
Beforehand though we did talk extensively about how the time off would slow our progress to our financial goals. However, we both knew my mental health and taking the break I needed was more important.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your sabbatical?
I love this question!
I realize this is easy for me to say as a person with a working spouse and savings, but I’ve learned our culture puts too much emphasis on work and being productive. I know this because I felt guilty telling friends and family I was taking a sabbatical. I literally felt like I had to justify wanting a break. How ridiculous is that?! Rest and reflection is equally important, although I do have to remind myself of this from time to time.
I’ve learned I need to trust my intuition more. My intuition had been yelling at me for quite some time about needing a break. Once the sabbatical was approved, I immediately felt at peace inside because I was (finally!) listening to myself.
Finally, I’ve learned financial security can empower you to take calculated risks. If our finances were not in order, I wouldn’t have taken a sabbatical. And, I’d still probably be miserable at work grinding away. Money is an important tool you can use to create more options in your life, especially when you want to try new things or go in a different direction. Financial security is the best gift you can give yourself.
Q: What impact has taking a sabbatical made in your life today? Can you see a before/after?
Taking the sabbatical taught me to trust my intuition. Later in 2022 I actually quit my job and started a blog. A strange turn of events, right?!
I came to terms with the fact my identity as an HR professional no longer lit me up like it did in the past. I slowly let go of that identity and am now focused on building a new identity working for myself. I have never felt more at peace with my decision, and in alignment with my personal values (freedom being #1).
In short, the sabbatical truly changed the course of my life for the better. I could not have anticipated all the doors that have opened. My path now is completely different compared to where I was one year ago. And while my current path is not without its own struggles, challenges, and uncertainty, I feel good about what I’m doing. That is how I know I’m on the right path.
Q: What do you wish you had known before planning your sabbatical? Any advice for future sabbatical takers?
When I requested my sabbatical, I felt like I was asking for the world from my employer. It felt like a big ask and a big risk. In retrospect, the sabbatical was a blip in my career journey, and I wish I had asked for one sooner.
My advice to anyone considering a sabbatical or even those who think, “I could never do that,”—it’s not as big of a deal as your mind is making it out to be. You deserve a break, time to reflect, time to rest, time to do something new and exciting—whatever it is, you deserve it! Don’t let productivity culture stand in your way.
I wish I had asked for more time off when I requested my sabbatical. I could have easily requested 90 days, but I was conservative because I didn’t want to piss off my employer. Don’t be like me, if you want more time, ask for it. The worst that can happen is your employer denies the request, or you are approved for less time than you requested. You are already putting yourself out there—ask for what you want.
My last piece of advice is regarding company policies. If you want to request a sabbatical, check your employer’s employee handbook/policy manual. I worked for a small company and was surprised to see we had a sabbatical/leave of absence policy. I was empowered to request time off once I saw we had a policy, and I was eligible under the policy. Keep in mind some company handbooks/policies may not call it a sabbatical. Another popular term in the HR world is “Leave of Absence.”
Finally, if your employer doesn’t have a policy for sabbaticals or leaves of absence, that doesn’t mean you can’t request one! Don’t let a lack of policy stand in your way either.
If you need more guidance on how to request a sabbatical from work, I detail out the process in this blog post based on my personal and professional HR experience.
What’s in for you, sabbatical dreamer?
Are you considering taking a sabbatical yourself? Get inspired by Lisa’s story!
6 Steps To Start Planning For Your Sabbatical:
- Are you still feeling like it’s impossible for you to figure out how to make a sabbatical work for you? Take a moment to break down those limiting beliefs. If taking a sabbatical were a normal step in your career, what would be the first thing you’d have to do to make it happen?
- Have you ever looked into your company’s policies regarding sabbatical leave? Go read your employer’s employee handbook/policy manual right now!
- Not sure when to best choose a start date for your sabbatical? Think about the current projects you are working on, both on a personal and professional level. When does it make the most sense to take a break? Be strategic about your departure date. It will be less stressful for you and easier for your employer to approve it!
- What’s one of your dreams you keep putting off? Is there a country you’ve been dreaming to travel to? A language you desire to learn? That could be possible even if you just took 1 or 2 months off!
- Set your priorities for your sabbatical: make a list of “must-do” and “nice-to-do”. Review these lists and make sure they align with your needs and desires.
- When requesting your time off, make sure to ask for the amount of time you really want. Don’t be conservative about it. Your employer might say yes! Worst case, they will tell you no or will ask you to take less time but you won’t know before you ask.
Check this out: How to take a sabbatical in the next 5 years